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TERRORISM

France charges key suspect Bakkali over Paris attacks

France on Friday charged terror suspect Mohamed Bakkali over his alleged key role in the 2015 Paris attacks, a judicial source said.

France charges key suspect Bakkali over Paris attacks
A van carrying Jawad Bendaoud, charged with harbouring jihadists during the November 2015 terror attacks, arrives at the courthouse of Paris on January 24th, 2018. Photo: AFP

Bakkali is suspected of helping to organise the coordinated gun and suicide bomb attacks in the French capital in November 2015 which left 130 people dead.

The 30-year-old had been arrested in Belgium barely two weeks after the terror attacks and kept in custody there in connection with them.

Earlier Friday, Brussels handed Bakkali over to French authorities on condition that he would serve any eventual sentence in Belgium.

French prosecutors charged Bakkali with being an accomplice in the 2015 terror killings.

Heavily armed jihadists had attacked the national stadium, bars and restaurants in Paris, as well as the Bataclan concert venue.

Bakkali is accused of renting a BMW seen near three safe houses where the attacks were prepared.

He was also charged Friday over his alleged involvement in an August 2015 attack on a high-speed Paris-bound train that left two passengers injured.

Further casualties were narrowly averted on the Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris when passengers including two off-duty US servicemen subdued gunman Ayoub El Khazzani — who had fought for the Islamic State group in Syria – as he opened fire.

The incident added further weight to the theory that the French-Belgian IS network had been behind the Paris attacks in 2015 and a triple suicide bombings in Brussels in March the following year.

Earlier this week, the first trial stemming from the Paris attacks opened in Paris.

The main defendant, drug dealer and landlord Jawad Bendaoud, is accused of taking in two of the jihadists at his suburban apartment days after the carnage.

Bendaoud, 31, rented the flat north of Paris to Abdelhamid Abaaoud – a senior Islamic State jihadist suspected of coordinating the assaults – and his accomplice Chakib Akrouh.

Bendaoud has rejected the allegations, insisting that he did not know that the two men were terrorists.

The only survivor among the 10 gunmen who carried out the killing spree in Paris, Salah Abdeslam, is due to appear in court in Belgium early next month.

READ ALSO: Belgium charges two over 2015 Thalys train attack

TERRORISM

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.

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